Grid Beam is a kind of LEGO, or Erector Set, for grownups who want to build real things. Its creators, brothers Phil and Richard Jergenson, have used it to create tiny houses, furniture, electric vehicles, bicycles and even a solar train car that made a 44-mile run on working rail.
The Jergensons grew up playing with modular toys- LEGOs, Meccano, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs- and wanted to apply this technology to help people construct their own environments, whether car, bike or bed. Phil’s daughter, Rona, grew up with a set of Grid Beam (then called Box Beam) and constantly re-modeled her room. “My bed, I changed it out every week, my dad would come in and one time I would have a bunk bed with a slide, the next day I”d say I don’t really want another bed let me put a desk underneath it.”
The Grid Beam brothers operate an off-grid, solar-powered shop in Willits, CA (Mendocino County) where they manufacture and sell the hardware: 2×2 wood (or aluminium) beams with holes drilled through every 1 ½ inches, as well as, standard furniture bolts and accessories like wheels, bicycle pedals or feet for tiny houses.
Back in the seventies the brothers were inspired by Ken Isaac’s idea of highly-customizable “living structures” (and his book “How To Build Your Own Living Structures”). “Matrix was what it was called then with an uneven hole pattern,” explains Phil of Isaac’s less-developed modular beam system, “And I knew what you had to do, you had to drill all the holes and you had to make it modular lengths of itself.”
They have been selling their Grid Beams since 2012, but they have always been open source and continue to encourage others to make their own. They have published “How to Build with Grid Beam: A Fast, Easy and Affordable System for Constructing Almost Anything” as a source of inspiration and a guide. And given the consistent pattern of the Grid Beams, designs are easily replicated. “If you just count the holes you can duplicate these frames just by looking at a couple of photos,” explains Phil.
“You can do anything for a fraction of the price. I see people being able to build their own tiny house and tiny electric car for easily 2 or 3 thousand dollars because that’s the cost of the components,” argues Phil. “And when you build it yourself, if something should go wrong, you are the specialist and you are the one who can fix it.”